There is much to the assertion by Nachman Syrkin that the Jews have persisted in history because the performed a socio-economic function that other peoples did not want to do or could not do. In his 1898 "The Jewish Problem and the Socialist Jewish State, " Syrkin lays out these ideas. Regarding this, Syrkin argued that a classless society and national sovereignty were the only means of solving the Jewish question completely. He felt that this social revolution would be the key to the normalization of the Jewish condition. With this in mind, he argued that the Jew must therefore join the proletariat as the only way to end class struggle and redistribute power justly. Since the bourgeoisie betrayed the principles of liberalism, then Jews must be the torchbearers of Socialism.
While Syrkin is many times seen as working on his own, however he had predecessors and contemporaries who had a huge impact upon Zionist Socialism.
This included Aaron David Gordon, a Zionist ideologue who functioned as a spiritual force behind practical Zionism and Labor Zionism. A native of Troyanov, Russia, he was a founder of the Hapoel Hatzair and his movement set the tone for Zionism for many years to come.
According to Gordon, Jewish suffering was traceable to the abnormal state of Jews in the galut (diaspora) that were denied the participation in creative labor. As a cure, he promoted physical labor to spiritually uplift Jews. This experience of labor linked the person as an individual to hidden spaces of both nature and being which could be turned into spiritual vision, Jewish poetry and as spiritual life. He believed work in the land was sacred for both the individual and the Jewish people. Agriculture would unite the Jewish people and give justice to its existence there. War would not acquire the land, but working it would. By the Jewish people going back to the land, they were returning to their natural state of order with its natural rhythms of work. The people would not then be involved in something artificial. Rather, they would be involved in organic, mystical whole.
He preferred organic connections to nature and to society. He saw these bonds such as family, community and nation as vital and held that they were higher than the bonds of state, party and class. Above all, Gordon believed in practice over theory. He was an intellectual that experienced the troubles of the working class and united with them in the process.
In the case of contemporaries, we have a great example in the form of Yosef Trumpeldor. Trumpeldor's career and exploits and his commitment to building a Jewish homeland in the land of Israel to liberate the Jewish people is well-known, but it needs to be told in context. What is very necessary and usually not examined is who was his intellectual inspiration and inspired him to become involved in the kibbutz movement. This influence was also very key in the development of the philosophy of many other Socialist Zionists.
Trumpledor was born in Pyatigorsk, a city in Russia's northern Caucasus. The military influence initially came after his father Wulf Trumpeldor was conscripted into the czarist army for twenty five years. In spite of Wulf's lengthy Army hitch and the virulent anti-Semitism of the Czarist Army, Yosef's father maintained his Jewish identity and influenced his son to take pride in being Jewish. Like many of the Jews of the Caucasus, these Asian Jews grew up fiercely proud of their Jewish heritage.
After graduating from the gymnasium high school, Trumpeldor enrolled in the university where he studied dentistry. As a young man, he was continually disturbed by the persecution of Jews throughout Czarist Russia and the promotion of the image as a coward who would not defend himself. What bothered him even more was that this stereotype went completely unchallenged. As he became aware of the World Zionist Congress, he immediately became enthralled with Zionism as a movement. He became convinced that a national renaissance in Palestine for the Jewish People was absolutely necessary.
He was deeply influenced by the views of a non-Jew, but a person not engaged in anti-Semitism by the name of Peter Kropotkin and by a farming commune that he had seen. He then connected the ideas of anarchist communism with aliyah to Eretz Yisrael and a future Jewish yishuv. An anarcho-syndicalist, Kropotkin was enamored by the agricultural commune as a way of reforming the life in the Russian countryside and bettering the lives of the peasants. This fired the imagination of Trumpeldor and his contemporaries who then saw the anarcho-syndicalist agricultural kibbutz as the model of the new Jewish society in the land of Israel. Probably, the success of the kibbutz movement was the best and only example of Kropotkin's philosophies. Trumpeldor took these teachings to heart. Trumpledor's was in the Russian Army during the Russo-Japanese War where he was promoted and decorated ultimately acquiring an officer's commission from the hand of the Czarina herself.
However, the Army was not going to provide his career. He was married to Zion. Trumpeldor then recruited a group of Halutznim (pioneers) to travel to Eretz Yisrael and found a kibbutz. As he studied law at the University of St. Petersburg, he organized a Zionist youth group that met in Romni, Ukraine. He then led his first group to Israel in 1912 to kibbutz Degania. After attending the thirteenth World Zionist Congress in Vienna, he began to develop his anarcho-syndicalist network of socialist kibbutzim. He declared himself an anarchist-communist and a Zionist. He wanted and worked for the goals of a communal society and rejected central government.
The Turks deported Trumpeldor in 1914. He and Zev Jabotinsky established the Zion Mule Corps to help fight the Turks on behalf of the British. The rest of his experiences during and after the War are after the chronological scope of this essay.
Prior to Trumpledor's death in the defense of Tel Chai, Jabotinsky and Trumpledor were united in their political sympathies. His commitment to Zionism, like Trumpeldor's arose out of the pogroms of Russia. After the terrible pogrom of Kishinev in 1903, the news correspondent Jabotinsky was sickened and walked the devastated ghetto reflecting on how the tragedy happened. Suddenly, a small piece of parchment from a Torah Scroll had two visible Hebrew words on it: Eretz Hokhria-"strange land." Like an epiphany, Jabotinsky was struck with the dichotomy of Jewish existence in the diaspora. He concluded that the Jewish people would never rest securely in a foreign land.
Jabotinsky then devoted all of his writing skills to promoting Zionism. Like Trumpeldor, he organized self-defense groups in Russia and fought for Jewish rights throughout the country. Jabotinsky was elected to the Sixth Zionist Congress, the last Congress that he went to. The War introduced him to Trumpeldor and the concept of fighting for Jewish rights by fighting on the side of the British against the Turks.
Another Socialist-Zionist was Ber Borchov. Borochov called himself a "Marxist Zionist." He was expelled for his Zionist beliefs from the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party prior to the party's split into Bolsheviks and Menshiviks. This led him to help found the Poale Zion Party. This "Labour Zionist" Party supported the Russian Revolution in 1917. The events of the Revolution split the Poale Zion into the Mapai (later evolving into Labour and "One Israel") and the further left Mapam (now Meretz). Many members of the Left Poale Zion joined the Bolshevik Party after 1917 and were very busy and prominent in the Communist Party's "Jewish Section" ("Yevsektsia") that was involved in destroying Jewish communities and resettling them on agricultural settlements Crimea and Ukraine and later the "Jewish Republic of Biro-Bidzhan. The Yevsektsia was dissolved in the 1930s and the ex-Poale Zionists in the Communist Party were largely wiped out in the Stalinist purges. His ideas on class struggle and nationalism energized the Marxist kibbutz movement.
His Socialist-Zionism largely posited many similar ideas to Syrkin's, but he expanded upon this with proof texts from Karl Marx. He saw the Jewish people as having the same problem that many oppressed nationalities do. Due to the political oppression, the economy and markets do not develop in a normal manner. For this reason, the bourgeoisie and proletariat do not develop exactly according to Marx's predictions. They need to then develop a positive nationalism that will bring them along the road to the realization of socialism.
Borochov did not deal with the issue of Marx's anti-Semitism.
As noted earlier, Marxist anti-Semitism was a major incentive for the establishment of Socialist Zionism as a separate movement. It would be well for a moment to consider the sources of this anti-Semitism. Historically, it came from little known tracts like Marx's entitled On the Jewish Question or A World Without Jews published in 1843. Marx who was a Hegelian was anti-religion in general and anti-Semitic in particular. All throughout On the Jewish Question, Marx exhibits a contempt and…